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|La Liga Special: What do Barcelona need to improve next season?|
It has been a rocky ride this past month for FC Barcelona in the eyes of the media and fans alike across Spain and worldwide. In a sense, "Guardiola-ism" has had a rise and fall spanning five seasons in the top flight. Josep Guardiola has won every single accolade, title and trophy possible as a professional football coach. Since his inception from the Barcelona B team, his influence, philosophy, vision, leadership, understanding, ethic, capacity and character has been engraved in the stature of a legend for the Catalan club and for the world game.
SoccerAnchor.com takes a look at Barça's present but most importantly, what lies ahead.
In the lead-up to the Copa del Rey (The King's Cup) Final against Basque outfit Athletic Bilbao, Pep has his last chance with his beloved club to leave with yet another trophy in its silverware cabinet. With the repairs of Sergio Ramos' damage on the Copa from last year's Final, the Blaugrana are hungry to win it back so it can be displayed at the club's museum in the Camp Nou.
Chilean international Alexis Sánchez, who injured his left thigh in the Rayo Vallecano match that Barça won 7-0 away is back in full swing after having trained with normality yesterday during the team’s first training session after last weekend’s Liga match against Real Betis.
Along with Alexis, who has missed Barça’s last three Liga matches (versus Málaga, Espanyol and Betis), three Barça B players, Martín Montoya, Marc Bartra and Christian Tello, joined the first team’s training session. The team trained with the ball that will be used in the Copa Final.
The other good news is that exciting Dutch international Ibrahim Afellay is back after a lengthy knee surgery recovery. The setback however is that Brazilian wing-back Dani Alves (pictured) has broken his collar-bone and will be out for up to 6-8 weeks.
Barcelona's first team players can now exclusively focus on the Copa del Rey Final scheduled for May 25 at the Vicente Calderón in Madrid.
MUST: CONTINUE GUARDIOLA'S LEGACY UNDER TITO VILANOVA
In Johan Cruyff, Barcelona rekindled itself in the 1990s with its unique brand of football and club philosophy. Més que un club is the marketing motto meaning 'more than a club'. Essentially, it is the one club that sets itself apart in Catalunya with pride attached to its cultural identity that thrives the club.
This was further reignited emphatically by Guardiola after trialling his unique vision and philosophy successfully in the Barça B team for only a year before being signed up for the first team gig. During this period for the club, the president at the time Joan Laporta appointed Pep knowing success was hard work but there were the elements that it was going happen gradually. And it did so successfully it re-wrote the record books.
And what an era it has been. Now the appointment to succeed the native from Sampedor is his right-hand man, former midfielder and current assistant coach Francesc 'Tito' Vilanova. The question however is, who is he exactly? An introductory report about him explains he fits the bill perfectly and has absorbed, worked and witnessed first hand the trade of coaching in the Guardiola era.
Laporta however spoke out about Vilanova's appointment as 'a panic decision' and blames the board for Guardiola's exit.
The players are overjoyed and happy with the announcement. Cruyff spoke with Goal.com from Guadalajara, Mexico (as he is currently employed with Chivas) and reiterated how the decision to appoint Guardiola back in 2007 to replace Dutchman Frank Rijkaard was viewed by many fans and journalists as "crazy".
In the system, the passers and creators are abundant in the names of Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fábregas.
Observers however cannot infer that Guardiola created these four exceptional midfielders as they were all created at La Masía, established at the club before he arrived. It is hugely acknowledged however that they were inspired immensely by him
Guardiola reinstated that technical quality is more important than ever. Guardiola’s philosophy has been the toast of Europe as a manager for the last few years and talks that the club's reign and influence is over is sheer blasphemy.
When Guardiola took over as Barcelona manager, he was just 37 years of age. As mentioned earlier, his appointment was viewed as ludicrous but one should only take a look at the legacy now.
It is thanks for him that youngsters like Isaac Cuenca and Christian Tello are getting invaluable first-team action. It is thanks to him that Lionel Messi began to consolidate himself to the world class player that he is having debuted under his Dutch predecessor.
MUST: NOT CHANGE ITS PHILOSOPHY AND PLAYING STYLE
If a system and its results work, why change? This is how Barcelona's technical staff operate, think and believe firmly is behind the club's enviable success. There are however, like in any system, loopholes and ditches to fix up.
Firstly it comes at the back in defence. The season performance of Gérard Piqué has been far from convincing. The tall central defender, fondly nicknamed "Shakiro" needs to solely concentrate on his game, stay away from showbiz or else his habits from Manchester United will come back to haunt him. It would be difficult to see him leave coming from a player with Barça in his DNA.
In goalkeeper Víctor Valdés, there is yet another Zamora trophy win to his name. His saves were very important throughout the season and has grown in stature in the years showing confidence when playing out from the back with both feet.
An intelligent, tactically-aware defender will be needed to reinforce its under-strengthed backline. The adaptation of Javier Mascherano as a fullback in a preferred 3-4-3 variation has paid huge dividends along with the improvisation of using Seydou Keita. The inception of talent at disposal with Andreu Fontas, Marc Bartra (previously mentioned), Marc Muniesa, Sergi Gómez and Oriol Rosell are just a few names that can provide spark and most importantly, thorough alternative solutions.
Vilanova is well aware of this issue. The European Championships in the Ukraine and Poland will also be a stern test for the Spain internationals in the side who will defend its continental crown and act as an important vantage point for him to pick-point exactly what weaknesses there are. Yes, an all-inspiring and almighty team like Barcelona do have weaknesses.
Didier Drogba is sounding as an interesting rumour to bolster an already star-studded attack along with the constant talk of Brazilian youngster Neymar joining the club from Santos.
The very latest talk on transfers consist of talks on selling Dani Alves, Gérard Piqué and Pedro. As for purchases, several names are flourishing already in Arsenal's Robin van Persie, Valencia's Jordi Alba, Tottenham's Gareth Bale and Athletic Bilbao's colourful young combination of Iker Muniaín and Javi Martínez whom have blossomed under Marcelo Bielsa.
Barcelona will not change its successful operation of attacking-minded football based on creating triangular-shaped moves and exquisite passing into spaces especially as its midfield love to move the ball around and use the full width and length of the pitch.
The latest is that the club's sporting director for football, former goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta says there have been no talks on selling Alves, Piqué or Pedro.
Inspirational Éric Abidal is also recovering slowly but steady.
Continuity will be key for Barcelona over the coming months with the demands and expectations as they fulfill off-season tours abroad, it will be the perfect opportunity for last season's signings Alexis Sánchez, Cesc Fábregas along with the younger players to really step up and blossom. David Villa will have been recovered by then so if they can manage to keep the momentum going then they will be back into full swing for next season with a slight change under incoming boss 'Tito' Vilanova.